I am a trainee developer at a large (~120 people) web agency, about 7 days from passing my probation. During my interview and on the contract it says the work hours are from 9:30am to 6:30pm. I always work at least those hours, and often overtime.

I studied biochemistry at university, but fell in love with web development. I don't have a CS degree or any qualifications as a developer; and my employers know this when he hired me.

But he has criticized me twice since then for not being enthusiastic, and not using my time to make up for it. Both of which I find extremely untrue and unfair. I do a lot of relevant reading in my own time (for my own interests, not because he requested).

Lately, I've been given projects with unreasonable deadlines, and they expect me to overtime without pay. I mean, I know I am not as skilled as my other colleagues, but it shouldn't mean I have to be a slave, giving all my time to do their projects. What's worse, they don't teach me anything, so I gain very little in these overtime.

There's an overtime culture at the company; people there are happy to work, go home, sleep and work again the next day. I cannot do that. I am not as skilled as them, yes; that's why I need my own time to learn new things that they should be teaching me, but are not.

How should I approach my boss to tell him that he is expecting too much? Without risk getting fired.

UPDATE 7 NOV, 2014 Conditions did not get better, OT'd until 5am on many nights and also OT'd every weekend for the past month. After refusing to OT anymore, I was fired.

In hindsight, sticking around wasn't such a bad idea, it really made me appreciate my own time more, and my work ethic is much better now. And now I have found work with a new company, who is smaller but have big clients too, and they've said "we work like a bank" - 0930 to 1830, you leave at 1830, no weekends - and they pay much better, which I didn't think was possible! I'll continue to give my best for this company!

  • i would first wait until you have passed the probabtion period if you choose to bring this up.
    – HLGEM
    Jun 19, 2014 at 17:37
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    Never leave an interview without asking (in some fashion) as to the typical work hours for people in the position you are applying for (in particular # of hours per week but also how flexible is the arrival/leaving times). You say there's an overtime culture at the company but it seems you don't want to do it. I'm with you. I won't do it either. However, I would never have taken the job to begin with because once I hear that 50+ hours per week is typical I'm outta there. Now that you are there, you need to fit in. Do what it takes to succeed there but start the process of looking elsewhere.
    – Dunk
    Jun 19, 2014 at 19:40
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    This simply sounds like a bad job. If you are young and the job is not allowing you to learn, get out quickly. As a young person, investment in your skill set has a much higher rate of return than anything you can do in the short term with a marginally higher wage. So even if you need to take a pay cut to get a job where you can learn and work a healthy number of hours, in the long run it will be more financially beneficial, not to mention healthier for you. Just quit.
    – user12818
    Oct 10, 2014 at 0:06

1 Answer 1


There's an overtime culture at the company; people there are happy to work, go home, sleep and work again the next day. I cannot do that. I am not as skilled as them,

What skill is there to working extremely long hours? Are you saying they put in regular hours, because only going home to sleep sounds like a long work day.

How should I approach my boss to tell him that he is expecting too much? Without risk getting fired.

I don't see how you can. He is expecting you to maybe put in more hours than everyone else because you are still learning. There are many careers where new people are expected to put in insane hours but usually there are some rewards to this. You have to ask yourself if this is worth doing so in the long run, you can work normal hours and possibly make a lot more money.

Although no one likes being criticized and prefer to have reasonable expectations of them, what are the consequences if you don't get the work done? If all your boss is going to do is keep criticizing, you just may have to learn to get over it. You may have to just deal with a boss who continues to criticize you until you improve. When in doubt, he's always going to ask for more. He's just a bad manager.

First, ask how long you are suppose to work and let your boss know how much you actually work. He may not realize the amount of time you are putting in. You may have to say, "I'm sorry, but I can't keep up those kinds of hours." You're being honest, but he could see this as defiance. It's up to you as to how much risk you want to take to refuse the extra hours and suffer the consequences of getting fired.

Try and get feedback from your boss and colleagues on what you can do to get better. Maybe you are spending too much time figuring out things for yourself, but he expects you to just ask someone and get it done faster. Not saying I agree with his approach, but I also don't think you know what his approach really is because you haven't asked nor has he explained it.

For the time being, you may need to put in more time and work at getting faster. It will come with experience. You may find many developers in your area are working worse hours, so the market is not in your favor. There is little threat that you will go elsewhere because everyone is the same and they'll just replace you with another person.

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    The ability to endure long hours is absolutely a skill, just as being able to run a marathon is a skill. Some people have a higher tolerance for working long hours than others, and this is a variable which managers need to take into account in order to ensure the health, job satisfaction, and long-term productivity of the staff. I'm pretty puzzled by your first comment. I never knew that anyone anywhere thought of "ability to work long hours" as not-a-skill. It's just a fact of biology that not everyone can work long hours productively.
    – user12818
    Oct 9, 2014 at 23:49
  • Agree with @EMS. It may not be a skill you want to use, or that your biology will let you develop very far, but knowing exactly how hard you can push yourself how long before hitting burnout is most definitely a skill, and a valuable one. When management asks you whether you can achieve a minor miracle to rescue a multi-million-dollar sale, being able to say "yes, and this is what it will cost us" or "no, not unless I get these additional resources" has real value.
    – keshlam
    Nov 7, 2014 at 14:02
  • @EMS - I guess I should say it is a common skill to a certain level and most people have it. This doesn't make it very unique, but the OP could be on the low end. Sure, many can't work 18 hours or run a marathon, but physically and mentally being able to work 10-12 hours or walk a mile or two is doable for most people with little practice. Most people who don't put in long hours choose not to and usually have other things in life pressing for their time like family, hobbies or other activities. Even if you're not 100%, you can get something done.
    – user8365
    Nov 8, 2014 at 13:33
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    @JeffO My experience is that very few people have the ability to sustain themselves for mentally difficult work for more than about 4 hours per day. People sit in chairs in offices with their hands hovering over keyboards for more time than that, but they are not outputting work that has any value, and certainly not work that should be trusted by time-sensitive managers. The mathematician Hardy used to say that he did 4 hours of work in the morning and then took leave to drink brandy and watch cricket -- because nothing good happens when you work after the 4 hour mark.
    – user12818
    Nov 8, 2014 at 17:01
  • That might be extreme, but the spirit of the idea is certainly true. I would much rather that the construction crew building that bridge I'm going to drive on stop working after 4 hours, and be mentally very fresh each day, and take a long time to make that bridge (even factoring in effects on traffic, local economics, logistics, etc.) than for them to work 10 hour days, make safety choices when they are tired, and artificially appear to be more productive. It's not just that there are diminishing returns for tired labor, there are often negative returns.
    – user12818
    Nov 8, 2014 at 17:03

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